Over the past year I've reflected a bunch on what I've learned, mistakes I've made, and slowly put together a long list of thoughts that I'm going to blog about in chunks. These are mostly about product management but many apply to all management. I published the first volume a few weeks back, and people seemed to enjoy it so here's volume two of the mixtape.
- The Art of Saying Yes. Much has been written over the years about the Art of Saying "No". As a Product Manager (or any manager) you definitely need to know when to say no. Early in my career I glommed on to this axiom, and it was helpful at the time. It wasn't helpful on it's own merits, however. In retrospect it worked because I was brought on for a reason. We needed focus as a company - and "saying no" was merely one tool that helped us get there. The dark flipe side of saying "no" is it reinforces the idea of "PM as the CEO of the product", which I think is a concept that needs to die. I like the "Art of Saying Yes" better. PM's should be facilitators. Your team is smart, your team wants to solve problems. You should both facilitate the clear communication of a strong, focused strategy and facilitate the execution against it. Your goal should be optimizing towards the least amount of times you have to say no and the most amount of times you get to say yes.
- You are never communicating enough. 90% of the game of Product Management (and all management) is effective communication. A meeting, a slack message, or a JIRA board are communications but aren't Communication. Inter-org communication is like a bizarre game of telephone. You think you said one thing clearly two weeks ago but you're lucky if it comes back around to you in English. You need to be constantly talking about the what and the why. Product teams execute best when there is a shared understanding of what needs to get done and why it needs to done. Communication vacuums or lapses can cause major missteps. As a facilitator you need to make sure team members are also communicating effectively. Different personality types communicate in different ways. You need to unlock this. Your products can't effectively communicate what they need to to the end customer if you can't communicate effectively as a team. When your teams are communicating in tune, the products they build will sing.
- You are also communicating too much. Communication is also about what you don't say and when. I can't count the times I've made an offhand comment on Slack and it resulted in something being built or changed. Or I've gotten excited about something, chatted with the team about it and all of a sudden the "what and the why" gets blurrier. Most team members will likely see you as "CEO of the product" and your words carry weight. Likewise, if you are writing up stories and acceptance criteria - I'm in the camp of all or nothing. Either write perfect specs or don't write detailed specs. Since I don't believe in perfect I like to be very focused on the stories, milestones, and what is or isn't important and let design and engineering fill in the gaps. Detailed specs that lack a few key details can often result in major oversights, buggy software, and bad team dynamics.
- Recognize what it means to manage up. Most people struggle with effectively managing up. It is the hardest thing to do. The higher up in an organization you go are more likely to deal with one or more psychopaths. If it's true that 20% of business leaders are psychopaths, it's nearly certain that your board has at least one. You could even be one yourself. This is not meant to be dismissive or derisive by any means, but to underscore that entropy increases as you move up an organization. You have fewer people, fewer interactions, and more volatile personalities. It's just the way it is. Communication becomes more important. You need to ensure that you are being managed up properly, then you need to manage up properly yourself, and also then ensure that when it reverberates above you that it gets managed down correctly both to you and through you. Now that I'm writing this, that psychopath stat makes complete sense.
- 90% is showing up. Not much to say here than hasn't already been said. Ken Norton says it best when he says your job is to bring the donuts. If you're starting out as a PM and have no clue what you're doing, you have no idea how far just doing this will take you.